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The Strategic Evolution Of Social Gaming
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The Strategic Evolution Of Social Gaming

April 15, 2011 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 3 Next

And Bruce, how has it been? You're aiding them and they're learning from you. What are you learning from them, as someone that's a long time veteran of the industry?

BS: I'm learning about the social networking space, the way the "social" works. I mean, we never concern ourselves much with social interaction other than multiplayer, you know? Like how do you matchmake, can you get into a game, can you chat? And that was the extent of it. But the idea of connecting, and helping each other out in the play of the game, and also reaching an audience we never got to before, I think, [is what I'm learning].

This is a big space of people who are playing games and not paying. ... The idea of giving them really interesting games -- to the point that they're actually willing to pay something -- that's kind of interesting to me.

I think I'm learning about this whole new area of gaming. This rapid iteration is pretty amazing, and to have the data come back -- we never had that... You had to finish your project and work on it for years before you started getting some meaningful data.

It was difficult to collect, even; there was only a limited amount of stuff you could learn. And you had to trawl through forums to hear what people were saying, and the repetition of a forum post would be a measurement of how serious they were about not liking this or liking this.

And now we get all these numbers that really reinforce quickly what people are liking, what they're not liking and allows you in a space of a few days to make changes in a game and improve it.

Zynga's very open about metrics-driven game design and that gets this negative reaction sometimes from people who might say, "Well, you should be following your gut." What do you think of that?

BS: I think that's ridiculous, and I think that watching what your consumers are doing with your game and responding to what they're obviously liking or not liking, and to deny that and say that "I know better," I think, is pretty foolish. When we did the Age games, we watched what our people did, and we patched those games on a bi-monthly basis based on what we were seeing. We weren't right the first time with any of those games, and so there's a conceit that I don't think does apply. And Zynga has just really narrowed that turnaround time where we gather information and can make a change.

BR: I think the good game designers wanted to be as data-driven as they could; there just wasn't much data. It used to be -- as Bruce said -- that you spent years making the game and then you really started to get your very first true user data when you ship, and you try to learn a little bit from it, but you couldn't even apply it until your next entire game a year or two in the future.

But, still, those were valuable golden insights that showed, "Wow, that really worked," and "Wow, that really didn't." And it used to be those were hard-won nuggets of value, and now we can see something this week, and actually react to it with the current game.

It's not like the current game is just lost to time because we didn't think of something important by the time we launched it; we can go work that back into the game when we see, "Oh, yeah, people are quitting when they do this. They come to this part and they quit, so they must not like that." [laughs] "Let's take it out next week." What's to complain about there? That sounds like a win-win for everybody -- the players like the game better, the game designers get to keep having their game. [laughs]

BS: Even Sid Meier, let's say, a guy of that caliber, is really only guessing until he plays. I mean, I don't think anybody's that smart, to have all these games figured out the first time. So the idea that we can learn quickly is a really positive thing.

And certain things are a little different in importance here. With Age, we thought that the game had to have a great first 15 minutes to get the people engaged and hold 'em. And in social network it's called the "first time user experience." And it's critical.

BR: And now it's like the first 15 seconds and the first minute -- it's the golden minute. You don't have 15 minutes! [laughs]

BS: They don't publish this -- and I don't think they publish this -- and I don't even think it's an internal thing, but there are golden mechanics that work. ... There are a lot of things that are new that I hadn't run into in other games.

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